As the final touches on the spray-paint artwork dried and the last Vapor X vaporizer was given away, Snowball 2014 came to a close on Sunday. After an initially sparse turn out, marquee DJs like Griz and the star-studded PLM Party padded attendance in an evening marred by late set start times and an artist cancellation.
Chief among the missing was lineup curiosity Afroman, who was slotted for the oft-ignored Ballroom Stage. Why he didn’t show was unclear — maybe a case of life imitating art. Though his management couldn’t be reached for comment, a notice on his absence was posted on the artist’s Facebook more than a week ago. The crowd that gathered for his 5 p.m. set were met instead by local hip-hop collective Turner Jackson. To their credit, the group managed to retain most of Afroman’s audience, even after they stated the obvious: “We’re not Afroman.” Reactions were mixed. One fan, who asked his name be withheld, said he was “a little disappointed,” but had been enjoying Turner Jackson. Another, who showed up late in the set, wasn’t so forgiving: “That’s fucked up.”
Artists who did take the stage on Sunday often did so behind schedule on non-DJ stages. Wild Belle suffered most from the delays, starting 15 minutes late and ending 5 minutes early. What they did play was perfect for their warm Sunday afternoon time slot, a swirl of twinkling indie dub that caught everyone at the stage in a good mood.
Busta Rhymes, Wild Belle’s successor on the Snowball Stage, still started 10 minutes late, but that’s almost expected at hip-hop shows. The rapper’s famously wacky music videos played on screens to hype up the crowd before he took the stage. Busta is almost unrecognizable from those days — his athletic frame gone and signature hair chopped off — but he showed signs of his off-the-wall, Mountain Dew-fueled energy. Cajoling the decidedly non-caffeinated onlookers (“How high are you right now?” he asked several times), Busta worked the crowd while going in on classics like “Got You All In Check” (featuring his first “Wooha!” of the night) and his guest verse on the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha.” Later, he spit an almost perfect rendition of his famously fast verse from “Look At Me Now” twice in a row, as if someone put it to him in a challenge.
Over at the Ballroom stage, Jagwar Ma soundchecked through the first third of their appropriated time, coming on over 20 minutes late. Once they kicked off with their chilled-out single “What Love,” few seemed to mind. The same could be said of the crowd at Rufus Du Sol’s set, which faced a similar setback before hearing the Australian band’s final show of their U.S. tour.
The DJs, which require significantly less set-up time, went over smoother. The Heat Tent continued its streak of lesser-known gems with duo Need and Necessity, who outfitted Sisqo’s “Thong Song” with a booming beat, followed immediately afterward by Juan Maclean. Maclean struggled with the rig in the first five minutes of his set, abusing a piano-and-drum clip until he came to grips, but took full control of the crowd then after with carefully curated house beats.
On a bigger budget, the blockbuster DJs provided commensurate spectacles. Pretty Lights’ label showcase PLM Party had five DJs on stage at once, ostensibly collaborating on chunks of each others tracks, though sonically, it was hard to tell what was what. Backed by an impressive laser array, the five of them stood on stage behind their consoles like spaceship pilots with the low-end phaser button stuck. Later, Griz did his best to top them in his own bass fest, purveying what felt like enough to blur any cellphone videos in the first 50 feet of standing room.
In all, Sunday felt like an afterthought of a finale for Snowball 2014. While there were memorable performances, they were often harried by logistical snafus. The festival’s cramped quarters in the parking lot at Mile High was less than half-full for its last day, making it feel paradoxically too big and small at the same time. The grounds themselves paled in comparison to the snow havens of Snowballs past. Convenience is one thing, but atmosphere is near as important to a festival as the lineup. If Snowball is to live on as a music festival (and I hope it does) it needs to shore up its organizational issues and return to what made it—and makes Colorado—beautiful: the mountains. Otherwise, it’s just another festival that neither artist nor fan would hesitate to pass over.
[Correction: This article initially stated local Denver artist Vibe Street replaced the M.I.A. Wavo Winner. Wavo Winner referred to a contest for up-and-coming artists won by Vibe Street.]
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.